Jakarta’s Governor Ahok Sentenced to Two Years in Jail for Blasphemy Against Islam

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Today (Tues 9 May), Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian who rose to fame as President Jokowi’s close ally, was sentenced to jail for committing blasphemy against Islam. Over the years, protection for Indonesia’s religious minorities has eroded as the government takes little action against Islamic extremism. This trial proves yet again how little room there is for religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and of course, arises suspicion of hidden political agendas.

Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, lost his re-election bid for merely pointing out how he felt about Muslim clerics. He said they were misleading voters by reciting a Koranic verse as a reason not to vote for a Christian politician, which Ahok then argued his critique was directed at clerics’ interpretation of the verse rather than the holy book, the Quran, itself.

However, it was too little too late for Ahok to explain himself as demonstrations were held by Islamist groups who wanted blood. They advocated for an election campaign against Ahok and have not only caused him to lose his bid for a second term but have also set up Ahok’s political rival Anies Baswedan to take over in October as the new governor.

Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, the head judge of the South Jakarta court claims Ahok was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment.”

Ahok has informed the court that he will appeal against its decision. In Indonesia, the heaviest sentence for hate speech is four years imprisonment while blasphemy is five years – which just so happens to be what rigorous Islamist groups are pushing for in Ahok’s case.

The incident which he is charged for took place last September when Ahok, known for not being reserved, offended Muslims after he quoted a passage from the Quran during his re-election campaign. He implied that his opponents had used a Koranic verse to trick people into voting against him.

An edited version of his speech went viral online, causing outrage in Jakarta (and beyond), where Ahok has ruled since his predecessor Joko Widodo became president in late 2014.

At time of print, police has been deployed by the thousands as a precaution against the possibility of violence between Islamist groups and Ahok’s supporters.

Though both sides are allowed to demonstrate peacefully, the Indonesian police isn’t placing any bets on it and will maintain their ground presence.

In the mean time, President Joko Widodo has called for all sides to restrain themselves while legal proceedings continue.

Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch has spoken out about how the sentence against Ahok signals “bad news for Indonesian minorities.” Because truly “if someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country’s largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?”

Meanwhile, back in Malaysia, metal icons Megadeth recently made headlines as local politicians, academics and music industry personalities voiced out their disdain at Islamic party PAS’ attempt to ban the metal band’s concert. Read about it here.